PITTSBURGH—Everyday life is intertwined with cultural messages. From advertisements and literature to the media and films, we are constantly faced with political, economical and social messages — but what do they mean in a broad, cultural context?
Carnegie Mellon University’s Literary and Cultural Studies Program within the Department of English focuses on the interpretation of these individual cultural artifacts — films, novels, plays, music — and how their meanings are created, distributed and impact different cultures. Founded in 1986 as one of the first programs of its kind in the United States, the Literary and Cultural Studies Program is celebrating its 25th anniversary with two days of events Sept. 20-21. The events will showcase the program’s faculty, alumni and students’ wide range of expertise in using the field to understand the world’s cultures.
“Since it was founded, our Literary & Cultural Studies program, which combines scholarly interpretation of novels, plays, films and music with the study of the wider social conditions in which art gets produced and interpreted, has contributed in a vital way to the Carnegie Mellon vision of interdisciplinary collaboration around critical issues of society,” said Chris Neuwirth, head of the Department of English.
The program in Literary and Cultural Studies offers Masters and Doctoral degrees. The program trains students to interpret a wide variety of cultural texts — everything from Shakespeare, Jane Austen and William Blake to Ralph Ellison, Marilyn Monroe and John Sayles. The program also trains students to incorporate feminist studies, gay and lesbian studies, post-colonial studies, and historical approaches, as well as media studies, theories of race, post-structuralism and discourse studies. Students may study 19th/20th century American literature and culture, British romanticism, African American literature, Early Modern studies, Hollywood cinema, and modern/postmodern fiction, among others.
“As we reflect on our first 25 years, we may wonder — is it incongruous that cultural studies, a British import rooted in historical materialism, New Left politics and working class studies, would have survived and thrived this long at a university founded by Andrew Carnegie, who established CMU in order to incubate pragmatic, useful careers, like engineering? Perhaps not,” said Kathy M. Newman, associate professor of English who organized the anniversary events. “At its core, the premise of cultural studies is that literature should be studied in its contexts, and that there are material connections between literature and the real world.”
Newman added: “Not surprisingly, then, many of our graduates have taken their cultural studies training and gone out into the real world. Their accomplishments range across a wide variety of careers, but they are all impressive.”
By: Shilo Rea